Like a good night’s sleep, a strong opening pair in cricket is often a necessity but can sometimes feel like a privilege.
With their scores over South Africa and the West Indies, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma treated us to something we hadn’t seen in six years — century partnerships for India’s first wicket in successive ODIs.
It had been in the summer of 2007 in England — in the one-dayers that followed the ‘jellybean’ series, when Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar stood together at Headingley and, incidentally, The Oval — that India last enjoyed such comforts.
Hundreds aren’t everything, but observed in context, these numbers can be illuminating.
In the four calendar years leading up to this Dhawan-Rohit double at the ICC Champions Trophy, India’s openers had realised a hundred runs or more only on five occasions: twice in 2009 and 2011, once in 2010, and never in 2012.
In contrast, between 2000 and 2008, there were 36 century stands — four a year on average — with combinations among Tendulkar, Ganguly and Virender Sehwag chiefly contributing to this figure.
It is too soon to be extolling Dhawan and Rohit, who have only batted together twice and against middling bowlers, as the grand future and what not, but after the drought of the last few years, it has been a bracing beginning.
“I’m extremely happy with this pair. They’re young — for batsmen — and have a lot of time ahead of them. It’s a left-right combination, and both are busy players and not plodders. What’s not to like?” asks the former India coach and opening batsman Aunshuman Gaekwad.
Dhawan has scored two bullish hundreds in two games, Rohit two fifties, and both have appeared at ease in each other’s company. “It was really nice playing with Rohit,” Dhawan said after the win at Cardiff. “I'm playing for the first time with him as an opener, and it was good. Our combination really worked for us. Our understanding and running between the wickets was good.”
Although Dhawan announced his second coming with his dramatic Test debut, his form here has come as a pleasant surprise. “I was a little surprised,” Gaekwad admits. “I was not too sure as far as English wickets were concerned. But he has adapted and done extremely well. He’s looked very confident. Although we haven’t seen much movement in the air or off the pitch so far, he’s batting as if it’s a Ranji Trophy game.”
Rohit, for long the object of criticism (not wholly undeserved either), is not an opener by training, but it seemed there was no other option if he were to remain in the side. So far, he has comfortably justified his place. “The one thing he has to work on is his concentration,” Gaekwad feels. “Once he gets into the thirties or forties, he needs to kick on and make big scores.”
‘Typical Indian culture’
Rohit’s ad-hoc deployment as opener has not taken Gaekwad by surprise. “This is typical Indian culture. This has happened since my father’s time: he had to do it in the fifties, and so did Ashok Mankad, Budhi Kunderan, Farokh Engineer and I,” he says.
“It is something that has been done for the balance of the team. But it has been a blessing in disguise. In ODIs, it’s good for Rohit to bat as an opener. But in case he doesn’t do well here, he shouldn’t be dropped.”
Dhawan and Rohit’s continued performances at the top of the order will pose uncomfortable questions of the future of Sehwag, not that they haven’t arisen already. “Sehwag can’t be compared with anyone,” Gaekwad says. “Competition only brings the best out of such players.”